Dir: James Watkins. UK . 2008. 90mins.
More Funny Games than Donkey Punch, Eden Lake is a gruelling, grimly effective British chiller. The directorial debut of My Little Eye screenwriter James Watkins achieves a commendable balance of dramatic credibility and psychological intensity that makes his nightmare scenario all the more disturbing. The story of a young middle-class couple terrorised by wild teenagers can also be read as a bleak commentary on the generational tensions and class conflicts that are currently front page news in Britain.
Eden Lake is a film certain to generate column inches but whether it is a film people will pay money to watch remains debatable. Too realistic for the gore and giggle horror fans and too harrowing for the majority of mainstream tastes, it should make a modest splash on its UK theatrical release in September before generating greater returns on DVD. Cinemas have been overrun with strangers in jeopardy chillers this year (The Ruins, Mushrooms, Donkey Punch, Funny Games, etc) and a certain amount of audience fatigue may work against the commercial success of Eden Lake. That would be unlucky as it is easily more thought-provoking and better acted than any of the titles mentioned.
Kelly Reilly stars as primary school teacher Jenny. Boyfriend Steve (newly hot Fassbender) whisks her off to the countryside for a romantic weekend when he plans to propose marriage. Their happiness seems so complete that you know they are doomed. Watkins also uses the opening credits to give intimations of the awfulness that is to befall them.
The couple's destination is an idyllic lakeside spot deep in the countryside. The locals at the nearest town are far from friendly. The couple subsequently fall foul of teenage tough guy Brett (O'Connell) and a gang of aggressive, foul-mouthed youngsters straight out of the pages of Lord Of The Flies. Mutual antipathy escalates into violence and a horrific ordeal where Steve is captured and repeatedly stabbed whilst a terrified Jenny roams the woods in search of help or rescue.
Eden Lake is a trim piece of storytelling in which Watkins manages to maintain a fair degree of nail-chewing tension. Events remains believable and are only marginally undermined by the dialogue's occasional lapses into genre cliche. ' We've got to get out of here, ' claims Jenny revealing a flair for stating the blindingly obvious.
There are echoes of influential 1970s productions like Straw Dogs (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973) as Watkins underpins the personal terror with wider social concerns. He paints a grim view of a Britain where the social fabric has been torn apart, inadequate parents raise uncontrollable children and the classes grow to fear and loathe each other. 'They are just boys being boys,' claims Steve but that's long before he's tied up with barbed wire, tortured and knifed whilst gang member Paige (Finn Atkins) captures it all on her mobile phone.
Reilly and Fassbender have the chemistry of a very convincing couple and retain audience sympathy even as a traumatised Jenny crosses the line from victim to vigilante. Their presence is just one of the elements that elevates Eden Lake way beyond standard genre fare.
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